Britain leaves its Eritrean community at the mercy of government extortion

The Eritean community in the UK faces a relentless campaign to pay taxes both to the Eritrean government and to its armed forces on income they earn in Britain.

The British government is ignoring the threats and demands being made by the Eritean government on its countrymen and women living in Britain. The Eritean community in the UK faces a relentless campaign to pay taxes both to the Eritrean government and to its armed forces on income they earn in Britain. The money raised it used, in part, to fund the activities of the Eritrean government in undermining other government in the Horn of Africa. According to the 2011 census, there are 17,300 Eritreans living in England and Wales.

A United Nations report plus documents from the Eritrean community in Britain provides evidence of the activities undertaken by agents of the state, many of them operating from the Eritrean embassy in London. This, despite British nominal support for action to end this extortion, and assurances from the Foreign Office that action has been taken to end the practice.

The UN report by a team of expert – led by the Canadian Africa expert Matt Bryden – laid out in chilling detail the range of methods being used by the Eritrean authorities to extract funds from the diaspora.

Without proof that a two per cent tax on all income has been paid, Eritrean passports are not renewed, visas are not issues, businesses not permitted and money cannot be transferred to relatives.

This is a case from the UK, cited by the UN Monitors.

Mr. “K” left Eritrea in 2000 and established himself in the UK. In 2007, the business licence of his parents’ import-export company in Asmara expired. When the family applied to renew their business licence, the authorities in (the Eritrean capital) Asmara stipulated that in order to obtain approval, their son needed to acquit himself of the 2 per cent diaspora tax payment. When his family contacted Mr. K. he replied that he did not want to pay and his parents renounced him as a member of his family in order to obtain the license, creating a longstanding rift in the family.

The UN Security Council condemned these practices three years ago. Britain voted in favour of resolution 2023 of 2011, which “condemned the diaspora tax”, “demanded” that Eritrea ended it and called on all states to ensure that it ceased.

The UN report says it has received assurances from the Foreign Office that action has been taken to end these practices.

On 20 May 2011, the Government of the United Kingdom notified the Eritrean authorities that, since aspects of the collection of the two per cent tax may be unlawful and in breach of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, until it was demonstrated otherwise, the Eritrean embassy should suspend, immediately and in full, all activities relating to the collection of the tax.

Yet there is evidence that the practice continues to this day. Members of the Eritrean diaspora living in Britain have told the New Statesman that the taxes continue to be demanded from them. Although they are concerned to remain anonymous, the New Statesman has a document showing the payment of the tax dated October 2012, more than a year after the Foreign Office issued its warning to the Eritrean ambassador.

 

 

The translation of the receipt reads:

Per the information we received from you, we confirm that the above sum has been credited into our account and we are enclosing the credit advice. Please complete the transaction in accordance with the procedures, entering it into the database and also the government account system.

Victory to the Masses!

Berhane Yemane

Head of Mission Accounts

Elsa Chyrum, an Eritrean human rights activist, says the Eritrean Government and party agents have since resumed tax collection across the United Kingdom.

Selam Kidane, an Eritrean working with the diaspora agrees. She says the authorities have just altered their strategy: “Following pressure from the British government the Embassy simply changed their collection method. Now most of the collection is done in Asmara, but the amount required is still the same.” “This puts a lot of pressure on families with limited means,” she says.

While the British government fails to halt this abuse, others have acted. In May the Canadian government expelled the Eritrean envoy.

"Canada has taken steps to declare persona non grata Mr Semere Ghebremariam O Micael, consul and head of the Eritrean Consulate General in Toronto, effective immediately," Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a statement.

But in London the Eritrean embassy continues to operate, unaffected by UN sanctions, or the ineffectual threats from the Foreign Office.

An Eritrean demonstrator waves his national flag during a demonstration on Whitehall in 2012. The protesters were demanding that Britain stops selling arms to Ethiopia. Photo: Getty

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. With Paul Holden, he is the author of Who Rules South Africa?

Police in Tahrir Square. Image: Getty.
Show Hide image

The murder of my friend Giulio Regeni is an attack on academic freedom

We are grieving – but above all, we are furious about the manner of his death.

The body of Giulio Regeni was discovered in a ditch in Cairo on February 2, showing evidence of torture, and a slow and horrific death. Giulio was studying for a PhD at the University of Cambridge, and was carrying out research on the formation of independent trade unions in post-Mubarak Egypt. There is little doubt that his work would have been extremely important in his field, and he had a career ahead of him as an important scholar of the region.

Giulio, originally from Fiumicello in north-east Italy, had a strong international background and outlook. As a teenager, he won a scholarship that allowed him to spend two formative years studying at the United World College in New Mexico. He was especially passionate about Egypt. Before beginning his doctoral research, he spent time in Cairo working for the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO). At the age of 28, he stood out with his big hopes and dreams, and he was committed to pursuing a career that would allow him to make an impact on the world, which is a poorer place for his passing.

Those of us who worked and spent time with him are grieving – but above all, we are furious about the manner of his death. While murder and torture are inherently of concern, Giulio’s case also has much broader implications for higher education in the UK and beyond.

Giuli Regeni. Image: provided by the author.

British universities have long fostered an outward-looking and international perspective. This has been evident in the consistent strength of area studies since the middle of the 20th century. The fact that academics from British universities have produced cutting-edge research on so many areas of the world is an important factor in the impact and esteem that the higher education system there enjoys.

In order to carry out this research, generations of scholars have carried out fieldwork in other countries, often with authoritarian political systems or social unrest that made them dangerous places in which to study. I carried out such research in Peru in the 1990s, working there while the country was ruled by the authoritarian government of Alberto Fujimori.

Alongside this research tradition, universities are becoming increasingly international in their outlook and make up. Large numbers of international students attend the classes, and their presence is crucial for making campuses more vibrant and diverse.

Giulio’s murder is a clear and direct challenge to this culture, and it demands a response. If our scholars – especially our social scientists – are to continue producing research with an international perspective, they will need to carry out international fieldwork. By its nature, this will sometimes involve work on challenging issues in volatile and unstable countries.

Universities clearly have a duty of care to their students and staff. This is generally exercised through ethics committees, whose work means that much greater care is taken than in the past to ensure that risks are managed appropriately. However, there is the danger that overly zealous risk management could affect researchers’ ability to carry out their work, making some important and high-impact research simply impossible.

Time for action

We cannot protect against all risks, but no scholar should face the risk of extrajudicial violence from the authorities. If universities are to remain internationally focused and outward-looking, we must exercise our duty of care towards our students and colleagues when they are working in other countries.

But there are limits to what academic institutions can do on their own. It is vital that governments raise cases such as Giulio’s, and push strongly for full investigations and for those responsible to be held to account.

The Italian and Egyptian authorities have announced a joint investigation into what happened to Giulio, but the British government also has a responsibility to make representations to this effect. That would send the message that any abuse by authorities of students and researchers from British universities will not be tolerated.

A petition will be circulated to this effect, and Giulio’s friends and colleagues will be campaigning on the issue in the days and weeks ahead.

Giulio Regeni’s murder is a direct challenge to the academic freedom that is a pillar of our higher education system. He is only one of many scholars who have been arbitrarily detained, and often abused, in Egypt. As a scholarly community and as a society, we have a duty to strike to protect them and their colleagues who study in dangerous places the world over.

 

Neil Pyper is an Associate Head of School at Coventry University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.